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The Northern Independence Party: ‘standing up for socialism’?

Niall Christie speaks to THELMA WALKER, the former Labour MP hoping to pip her former party to Westminster as the Hartlepool candidate for the NIP

“SOCIALISM doesn’t go away, does it?” A simple question posed by a candidate just two weeks out from a number of important elections being held across Britain. But instead of running under the red banner of Labour, former MP Thelma Walker has added a splash of yellow to her rosette as the most high-profile voice of a new movement.

Self-identifying as democratic socialists, the Northern Independence Party (NIP) was founded just last year. Initially a rag-tag group of socialists, former Labour activists and those still finding their political feet, NIP have developed into something of a new hope among lefties, coupling their calls for an independent state of Northumbria with redistribution of wealth and a mass of entertaining social media content that will have you spitting out your Yorkshire Tea.

“There’s a kind of youthful drive with this party that is about the future, it’s about a vision and about collectively coming together for everyone’s wellbeing,” Walker says. “I believe we had that under Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and the rest of that group, with that manifesto in 2017.

“I feel like I’ve got the euphoria of that campaign and I actually feel like I’ve got that euphoria back when you really believe in something.”

The NIP’s foundation came around a month before Walker resigned over the refusal to readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the Parliamentary Labour Party. The NIP candidate describes this as being just one of many issues with the party’s shift under Keir Starmer, citing the sacking of left-wing frontbenchers, whipping to abstain on human rights Bills and the refusal to back teaching unions’ demands.

Having lost her own seat in Colne Valley in 2019, the 64-year-old former headteacher is now back, taking on a Labour candidate in Hartlepool — Paul Williams — whom she describes as “almost an apologist for the Saudi regime.”

Far from having abandoned those principles which saw her voted into Westminster in the 2017 surge, Walker believes the need for power to be moved away from London is greater than ever and she is the only candidate offering a socialist route to that.

“I will be honest with you, the independence part is way along the road for me,” she admits. “If that is what happens in decades to come, or whenever, that is for a referendum. Like is happening in Scotland, that is for the people to decide.

“I am more interested in federalism, regionalism and localism. I’m bothered about taking control away from Westminster and giving it to the northern regions so that local people have a say in their local economy and are a part of it.”

Some within the Labour ranks have been quick to criticise the NIP — and Walker — for allowing the Tories an easy run in the vote. But with a number of left-wing groups and parties already backing her candidacy, she says the NIP have a role to play in the coming years in politics and this May — which will see candidates on the ballot in local elections, as well as national ones — is just the beginning.

“Even though I know it’s fairly remote that NIP would win, I’m going for it, I’d love to be the voice for Hartlepool in Westminster, change it from within and have a go at that government front bench, even as one independent voice.

“I’m being realistic, this is about a bigger movement and about the start of something. And I think that’s what has rattled the cages of Labour and co.

“I know there are accusations of us splitting the vote and enabling the Tories. That is nonsense. We are the only fully democratic, socialist, left party standing and you have to look at the national polls.

It might be different if he national polls weren’t so poor for Labour, she says. “The [Labour] campaign just seems to be dire to me — it’s not cutting through at all. I’m not standing against Labour, I am standing up for socialism. That is the difference.”

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